Archive for June 20th, 2008

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Friday Blincoln Blog

June 20, 2008

When Lincoln was running for president he was routinely called “the western candidate” or “the candidate from the West” and other variations. In that time the western states truly were backwaters and the people from the area were often demeaned as hayseeds, rubes, and the like. Casting Lincoln in that role was purposeful baiting. Stephen Douglas, during his historic debates with the future Emancipator, referred explicitly and implicitly to Lincoln’s less-than-cosmopolitan upbringing as a way of turning the crowds against him.

Of course such political liabilities have been turned on their heads in recent years. Contemporary presidents have all made every effort to downplay their elite childhoods or Ivy League educations. Bill Clinton, although a Rhodes Scholar, famously ate at McDonalds during his morning jogs and wore boxers. His nickname was “Bubba.”

George Bush and Ronald Reagan were sure to get photographed on their ranches. Et cetera.

Although we now look back on Lincoln’s childhood in rural Kentucky and Indiana as a kind of moral play–an inspiration for poor children across the country–Lincoln was never proud of it. He refused to romanticize the life of subsistence farming as many of his political contemporaries did, and he was ashamed of his lack of formal education.

But Lincoln was a powerful intellect by any measure. Although he lacked the advantage of a schoolroom, he was sure to provide himself the education he needed. As this Lincoln Bicentennial blog reminds us, Lincoln was a book devourer, famously reading borrowed books by candle and fire lights. He taught himself to write by scratching the alphabet onto the dirt on a shovel, and so on and so on.

But my favorite image of Lincoln’s dogged pursuit of self-edification is one remembered by a colleague of Lincoln’s while they were sharing a room while running the court circuit–of having come home from some event or other that Lincoln was curiously absent from. Returning to their room he opened the door to find Lincoln surrounded by crumpled pieces of paper, his fingers stained with ink. After having worked his way through much of Euclid’s geometry on his own, Lincoln had spent the evening trying to square the circle.

It is hard to think of any modern politicians being so distracted.

Photo from flickr user Angie C used under Creative Commons License.

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Indiana’s Poet Laureate

June 20, 2008


The Indiana Arts Commission has named Norbert Krapf Indiana’s Poet Laureate.

For more information on the IAC’s Poet Laureate program, go here.